Governments, Citizens Aid Kurds despite Response, Aid Organizations Warn Generosity Is Proportional to Media Coverage. INTERNATIONAL RELIEF

Article excerpt

PHONES are ringing and checks are being signed as Americans dig into their pockets to help the Kurdish refugees fleeing Iraq.

A plethora of nonprofit organizations have formed a network to send money, volunteers, and supplies - blankets, food, and sanitation equipment - to the millions of Kurdish refugees and other peoples displaced in the wake of the Gulf war.

At the nexus of the network is InterAction, an association of humanitarian aid groups based in Washington, D.C. InterAction is coordinating the effort to ensure that supplies and donations are appropriately and evenly distributed.

Most of the relief organizations say it is still too early to tell if long-term public response will be stronger for this crisis than for such fund-raising emergencies as the Armenian and San Francisco earthquakes and for famine relief in Africa.

Nor are there total dollar figures yet for what supplies are needed and what has been raised.

But so far, say most organizations polled, the initial response from the American public has been swift and generous.

"The phones have not stopped ringing - from individual citizens as well as from foundations, groups, people wanting to be helpful," says Harold Fleming, senior program funding officer at UNICEF in New York.

The United Nations children's agency has gathered some $6 million for refugee aid from governments around the world and from citizens in the United States.

The biggest contributor so far has been the Netherlands, pledging $900,000. Other calls have come from doctors wanting to fly to the region to help and from construction workers wanting to donate their lunch money.

"We've been surprised by the high numbers on the checks that are coming in. We're really getting an outpouring of generosity from the American public," says Wendy Christian at Save the Children in Westport, Conn., which has raised $73,000 in a few days.

Usually, donations for disaster relief are under $20, Ms. Christian says. But checks for the Kurds are ringing in at $100 to $6,000 each.

Most money is being spent on shelter items, such as blankets and tents, says Lisa Mullens, coordinator at InterAction. "There's very little information on what's needed out there, and the needs are changing rapidly."

President Bush's recent announcement that the US will provide military assistance will alter what's needed from private donors, Ms. …